Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) affect hormones. They are found in products ranging from contraceptive drugs to liquid detergents.
They have been seeping into rivers through the sewage system for decades and alter the biology of fish, changing male fish to make them more female.
"Until now, there has been no solid evidence to show the long-term impact of this effect on fish in the wild -- but the new research focusing on wild roach in two UK rivers (Bourne and Arun) has provided new evidence
... It was found that intersex fish -- those that had their sexuality compromised by EDCs and which contain both male (sperm) and female (eggs) sex cells -- had their reproductive performance reduced by up to 76 percent."
Intersex fish contain both sperm and eggs, and this new study found that their reproductive abilities may be reduced by up to 76 percent. How did these fish end up “intersex”?
Through exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that are polluting the environment -- a finding that raises serious implications for humans as well because all vertebrates have similar sex hormone receptors.
Already these chemicals, nicknamed “gender-benders,” are causing the males in many species to become feminized. In some rivers in Britain, up to 50 percent of male fish are now growing eggs along with sperm in their testes. Hermaphrodite polar bears have also been found.
What are Some of the Most Common Gender-Bending Chemicals?
These chemicals are virtually everywhere in the modern world, lurking in personal care products, food containers, medical tubing, toys and more. Some of the top offenders you should be aware of, and watch out for, include:
- Phthalates -- Exposure to phthalates can lead to incomplete testicular descent in fetuses, reduced sperm counts, testicular atrophy or structural abnormality and inflammation in newborns.
Phthalates are found in vinyl flooring, detergents, automotive plastics, soap, shampoo, deodorants, fragrances, hair spray, nail polish, plastic bags, food packaging, garden hoses, inflatable toys, blood-storage bags, and intravenous medical tubing.
- Bisphenol A (BPA) -- A common ingredient in many plastics, including those in reusable water bottles and resins lining some food cans and dental sealants, can change the course of fetal development in a way that increases your risk of breast cancer. Polycarbonate plastics contain BPA.
BPA has been detected in the umbilical cord blood of 90 percent of newborn infants tested.
- Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) -- Found in grease- and water-resistant coatings like Teflon and Gore-Tex, is a likely carcinogen.
- Methoxychlor and Vinclozin-- An insecticide and a fungicide respectively, have been found to cause changes to male mice born for as many as four subsequent generations after the initial exposure.
- Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) -- Known to be potent endocrine disrupters, these chemicals affect gene expression by turning on or off certain genes, and interfere with the way your glandular system works.
They mimic the female hormone estrogen, and have been implicated as one reason behind some marine species switching from male to female.
- Bovine growth hormones commonly added to commercial dairy have been implicated as a contributor to premature adolescence.
- Non-fermented soy products, which are loaded with hormone-like substances.
- MSG -- A food additive that’s been linked to reduced fertility.
- Fluoride -- This chemical in the U.S. water supply has been linked to lower fertility rates, hormone disruption and low sperm counts.
What each of these substances has in common is that they can affect you and your children’s, endocrine system and reproductive health.
The glands of your endocrine system and the hormones they release influence nearly every cell, organ, and function of your body. They are instrumental in regulating your mood, growth and development, tissue function, metabolism, as well as sexual function and reproductive processes.
Numerous studies over the past decade confirm that males may be particularly at risk to these chemicals. Decreased sperm motility and concentration, as well as genital abnormalities in baby boys have been linked to these chemicals.
Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals Pose Steep Risks to Baby Boys
The more a pregnant woman is exposed to high levels of one type of endocrine-disrupter known as phthalates, the greater the risk her son will have smaller genitals and incomplete testicular descent, leading to impaired reproductive development. The chemical also appears to make the overall genital tracts of boys slightly more feminine.
It is believed that phthalates have these adverse effects because they reduce testosterone synthesis by interfering with an enzyme needed to produce the male hormone.
In one study, women who had higher concentrations of two types of phthalates (DEHP and DBP) also had boys who appeared more feminized in their personality while playing.
The presence of phthalates in the mothers was not associated with any differences in the girls’ play behavior. However, that is NOT an indication that phthalates are “safe” for women.
They also affect women’s endocrine systems and reproductive health although the effects are different between the genders. For instance, girls are also reaching puberty earlier than ever before, and these chemicals may be culprits.
Bovine growth hormones used in food production, soy foods, and bisphenol-A (BPA), just to name a few, add to the problem as they also mimic estrogen and disrupt your endocrine system.
Other studies have linked the chemicasl to thyroid problems in both women and men, and researchers have also suggested a link between phthalates and illnesses like allergies, asthma, and contact dermatitis, all of which are on the rise in children.
How to Reduce Your Exposure to Gender-Bender Chemicals
Although legislators in Washington, Vermont and California have restricted phthalate use in children’s goods, and several major retailers, including Wal-Mart, Toys-R-Us, Lego, Evenflo and Gerber are phasing out phthalate-laden toys voluntarily, these chemicals are still very widely used.
You can help to cut back on your exposure with the following tips, and though they are important for everyone, pregnant women and women who may become pregnant should pay particular attention to reducing their exposure as much as possible:
- As much as possible, buy and eat organic produce and free-range, organic foods to reduce your exposure to pesticides and fertilizers.
- Rather than eating conventional or farm-raised fish, which are often heavily contaminated with EDCs, PCBs and mercury, supplement with a high-quality purified fish or krill oil, or eat fish that is wild-caught and lab tested for purity.
- Eat mostly raw, fresh foods, steering clear of processed, prepackaged foods of all kinds. This way you automatically avoid artificial food additives of all kinds, including dangerous artificial sweeteners, food coloring and MSG.
- Store your food and beverages in glass rather than plastic, and avoid using plastic wrap.
- Have your tap water tested and, if contaminants are found, install an appropriate water filter on all your faucets (even those in your shower or bath).
- Only use natural cleaning products in your home.
- Switch over to natural brands of toiletries such as shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants and cosmetics. The Environmental Working Group has a great safety guide to help you find personal care products that are free of phthalates and other potentially dangerous chemicals.
- Avoid using artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners or other synthetic fragrances.
- Replace your Teflon pots and pans with ceramic or glass cookware.
- When redoing your home, look for “green,” toxin-free alternatives in lieu of regular paint and vinyl floor coverings.
- Replace your vinyl shower curtain with one made of fabric or install glass shower doors.